My dear confreres,
As I write this letter my thoughts go back in faith and gratitude to Fr Valentín De Pablo, General Councillor for the Region of Africa and Madagascar. His sudden and unexpected passing took us by surprise and humanly speaking has left us dismayed. I am grateful to all those of you who sent me deeply felt expressions of sorrow and sympathy. Let us be grateful to God for the priestly and missionary Salesian vocation he gave to Fr Valentin, and keep him in our prayers. In the last days of his life he took part in the General Council´s choice of the theme of the General Chapter. Now close to God he will be able to intercede for all of us, for the success of the coming Chapter and for the Region of Africa and Madagascar.
On the nameday of Don Bosco, our beloved father and founder, who used to gather around him on that day all his boys, collaborators and benefactors at Valdocco, I am glad to be able to write this letter to you in his name. By it it is my intention to convoke, in accordance with art.150 of our Constitutions, the XXVI General Chapter. The Chapter is the "principal sign of the Congregation´s unity in diversity" (C 146). We shall come together once again to reflect on how to be "faithful to the Gospel and to the Founder´s charism, and sensitive to the needs of time and place" (C 146). Don Bosco will certainly be with us at such a time.
I invite you to look upon this event as a new Pentecost in the life of the Congregation which, through the General Chapter, by "opening itself to the Spirit of the Lord seeks to discern God´s will at a specific moment in history for the purpose of rendering the Church better service" (C 146). The Spirit´s greatness is revealed in his power which is able to renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104, 30) and make all things new. The Spirit of God, present at every moment of history, will make new our love for Don Bosco.
The Spirit hovered over the waters at the beginning of the world (cf. Gen 1,2), and was communicated to man when the breath of life was breathed into him (cf. Gen 2,7). It led Abraham to respond to God with the obedience of faith when he was called to leave his own land and kinsfolk in order to reach the promised land (cf. Gen 12, 1-4). It was given to Moses on Sinai as the word of life in the gift of the law (cf. Ex 29,1-16). It made use of men and women of Israel to convert them into liberators of their own people and into prophets of the most high God (cf. Acts 2,17).
The Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary and made her the mother of God´s Son (cf. Lk 1,35). He anointed Jesus on the day of his baptism and prompted him to preach the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Mk 1,19-15). He was poured out on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire and they were transformed into convincing witnesses of the Resurrection (cf. Acts 2,1-11).
The Spirit continues at the present day to inspire the advancement of the life and dignity of the human person; he opens the minds and hearts of men and women to God and to Christ; he is a gentle guest who works not by compelling but by convincing and asking for docility to his inspirations.
The coming General Chapter will be the 26th in the history of our Society. It will be in continuity with preceding Chapters in a sincere commitment of dynamic fidelity to God and to the young. It will take place at Rome in the "Salesianum" at the Generalate. It will begin on 24 February 2008 in Turin, the cradle of our charism, where we shall come together to visit the house of our father and discover the roots of his spirit. We shall inaugurate the Chapter with a concelebrated Mass in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians and a visit to our Salesian holy places, the source of our inspiration and dynamism. We shall then leave for Rome, the seat of the Chapter.
As Moderator of the Chapter I have appointed Fr Francesco Cereda, Councillor for Formation, who from now on has the responsibility for accompanying the work of preparation and the carrying out of the General Chapter.
"Da mihi animas, cetera tolle" (cf. C 4) is the theme that, with the General Council, I have chosen for the GC26. It is a theme which has been frequently recalled in the Team Visits, and which I and the Council members have very much at heart. It represents Don Bosco´s spiritual and pastoral programme, and in it is concentrated the charismatic identity and apostolic zeal of the Salesian.
The topic is huge, and for this reason we have decided to focus the attention of the Chapter on four specific areas: the urgent need for evangelisation, the need to recruit others to the consecrated Salesian life, the demand that we live in evangelical poverty, and the challenge of moving towards new missionary frontiers.
1.1 Reasons for choice of the theme.
For some time now the conviction has been growing on me that today the Congregation needs to reawaken in the heart of every confrere the passionate zeal of "Da mihi animas". In this way it can acquire the inspiration, motivation and energy to respond to what God expects of us and to the needs of the young, and to face up with courage and competence to today´s challenges.
By making our own the motto "Da mihi animas, cetera tolle", we intend to take up Don Bosco´s spiritual and apostolic programme, resulting in his tireless work for the "glory of God and the salvation of souls". In this way we can find once again the origin of our charism, the purpose of our mission, and the future of our Congregation.
The bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco, of which the occurrence in 2015 seems not all that far away, is an invitation to call on Don Bosco to return among us and among young people: "Don Bosco ritorna!". On the other hand, it is also a stimulus for every Salesian to return to Don Bosco and to the young: Let us return to Don Bosco by returning to the young.